Why the curse of Columbus Day lingers onto Native American Heritage month

Columbus Day celebrated on the 12th of October, juxtaposed with Native American heritage month in November, which goes by in relative obscurity could be one of the greatest contradictions on the American National Calendar. While the latter is an important homage to the earliest residents of the continent, it is not possible to celebrate Columbus Day without disrespecting indigenous people. How can one glorify a cruel, tyrannical invader and its victims within the span of a single month?

The very context of Columbus Day is rooted in a whitewashed elementary school history lesson: 0n the 12th of October 1494, Christopher Columbus discovered the uninhabited Americas and brought with him on his three iconic ships (Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria) democracy, Christianity and civilization. And in doing so, proved that the earth was spherical.

There’s a lot to unpack and unlearn here: for starters, the Eurocentric historical lens and one of the greatest misnomers ever used, the word “discovery” so frequently associated with Columbus. Most of these claims have been debunked by history itself: Columbus never set foot in North America, and the idea of the earth being round was a prevalent theory at the time. And according to Oren Lyons, traditional chief of the Onondaga Nation, what Columbus brought on his ships were actually “Two edicts, the papal bull of 1452, which said to enslave all Saracens and pagans, and the papal bull of 1493, which said to bring in all pagan nations and peoples to the Christian faith and their property. And that’s been done.”

In fact, recent historical findings reveal that he was not even the first European to set foot in the Western hemisphere nor was he the first to establish a settlement there. Earlier Vikings had already achieved this feat. But myths die hard. Columbus’ voyage simply inaugurated transatlantic colonization and the subsequent American Indian genocide. A recent article by Penn Today highlights that “there were between 5 million and 15 million Indigenous people living in North America in 1492. By the late 1800s, there were fewer than 238,000 left.”

He viewed the native populations as obstacles, and eventually exploited them as forced labor to collect gold. He plundered and looted, enslaved, and raped women. He mutilated the body parts of those who objected to his coercion. And he recorded all this in his diaries, which he eventually presented to the Spanish royalty, that was funding his chartered mission. Here is one such existing excerpt, which declares his intentions of enslaving indigenous people:

“They willingly traded everything they owned … They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features …They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron …They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

So why does Columbus still merit a federal holiday in his name? Whether one considers him as an innocent product of his time, simply talking the language of colonialism, or as the vindictive tyrant of the Caribbean that committed countless atrocities against humanity, to memorialize him is to perpetuate his legacy of oppression.

And while we’re on the topic, let’s also remember how holidays such as Thanksgiving are equally culpable of the erasure of Native American history due to their capitalistic appropriations. Over time this holiday that stemmed from an indigenous ceremony celebrating the generosity of the Wampanoag tribe, has evolved into a feast of Turkeys. And the following day to be celebrated as Native American Heritage day has come to acquire the popular title of “Black Friday”: an excuse to shop. Thanksgiving as we know it naively commemorates the arrival of settlers without addressing the repercussions of the phenomenon: years of oppression and genocide.

[Image Description: Members of the Mexica Movement protest against Columbus Day in downtown Los Angeles, California, in 2015.] via Reuters
Today, about 13 states have renamed Columbus Day to some variant of “Indigenous people day.” In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, anti-racist protests made many statues and monuments of slave owners come crashing to the ground. Amidst these were statues of romanticized conquistadors including Columbus, removed by the American Indian Movement. Taking down monuments that represent genocide and slavery is not vandalism. It is a symbolic act of throwing wrongful “historical heroes” off their pedestals.

[Image Description: A statue of Christopher Columbus toppled from its stand in June on the east side of the Minnesota State Capitol.] via Darren Thompson, Native News Online
The next step? The carefully sanitized version of history must be replaced by an adequate representation of Native voices. After all, “history not taught is history forgot”.


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Studies show that Indian parents think that mental health issues are shameful. What next?

23-year old Neha and her mother have always shared a close bond.

Being the youngest of three children and the quietest, Neha developed a trustworthy relationship with her mother early on. She recalls their daily hour-long conversations during her transformative years in undergraduate college.

Today, however, those conversations have turned difficult, sometimes ending up in heartbreak. For the past two years, Neha has been managing Bipolar II Disorder, which her mother refuses to acknowledge. Her mother often calls Neha’s extreme emotional behavior as “bakwaas” (rubbish) and “excuses to not get better.”

Neha is one of the countless Indian millennials struggling with parents who carry rigid prejudices and ignorance around mental health.

In 2018, India was declared the world’s most depressed country, with a staggering 6.5% of its population dealing with serious mental health conditions.

Despite this disturbing figure, the majority of Indian parents do not accept mental illness as a credible health concern, confirming the social stigma around it.

The Tempest spoke to journalist Sophie Cousins, who covers health issues in South Asia, about this mindset and she underlines the perception of weakness associated with people struggling with mental illnesses. Parents often use their hardships as parameters to judge their child’s mental health concerns. “We lived through war/famine and you are having trouble in getting over a break-up?”

“If you’re acutely aware of what your parents have been through, you’re less likely to speak up,”  Sophie adds.

Furthermore, the reprisal “Log kya kahenge?” (What will people say) attitude delineates the young from opening up to their parents.

The fear of becoming a social outcast presses upon the need to tag mental illness as a phase of life. A period where one is expected to toughen up and move on.

21-year-old student Shashwat was diagnosed with severe clinical depression during his first year of undergraduate studies. “There was a certain period of time that had to pass before my parents would believe that it wasn’t a problem that would just go away with time or ‘positive thinking,’” he says.

Emotional self-censorship, self-blame, and guilt are the leading causes of why India accounts for 37% of the world’s suicides among women and 24% among men. In addition, nearly 63% of total suicide deaths in the country are between 15 – 39 age group.

A public health crisis like this demands a pivotal shift in the way our parents think and understand mental health.

The formative step towards that dialogue begins by empathizing with our parents, who might have also undergone periods of undiagnosed mental illness.

Leading counseling psychologist and author, Rachana Awatramani states, “During our parents’ generation there was no access to Google nor were there platforms where people could share and speak about their challenges. Furthermore, mental health was never important, the entire focus was always on physical health”

Building empathy towards one’s parents can open pathways of better understanding. This can break the cycle of denial and guilt within families, and generate mutual emotional support.

Shashwat highlights that this understanding helped him a lot. “An emotionally supportive point was that, when I stopped wanting to live for myself, my parents’ understanding made it easier to live for them. At least until I could learn to live for myself again.”

Empathy can build insights into our parents’ thought processes, and help customize ways to improve their understanding of mental health. This can progressively evolve into a two-way communication, leading to what Sophie terms as a “collective realization”.

In 2017, India passed the Mental Health Care Bill, giving the much-needed push to formalize mental health care apparatus and set rules to protect the rights of citizens with mental ailments.

This law and the healthcare system can fully function only with the co-operation of families, their willingness to be open while respecting their child’s mental health.

Persons living with mental illnesses face emotional depletion and social exclusion on a regular basis. Having non-supportive parents can further defragment their self-confidence, stunt professional development, and deteriorate their ability to co-exist with their peers.

In worst cases, lack of communication can embolden social stigma and render parent-child relationship fragile under severe emotional stress.

As Neha points out, “Had we (her mother and herself) been secure enough to be vulnerable with each other, maybe we could reduce the toxicity we have now in the relationship.”

For a parent, seeing your child undergo difficult periods can be heartbreaking, but not being there when they need you the most, can be as detrimental to the child as the illness itself. Families need to initiate difficult and often uncomfortable discussions inside their homes. “Active listening, believing in them and collaborating with them,” are the keystones of building trust between parents and children, Rachana underlines.

Neha’s empathy for her mother is what keeps their relationship alive. She knows that if her mother could understand her emotional needs as a three-year-old, somewhere she understands them even today.

The path to that actualization is bitter, but there is a path nonetheless and that hope makes Neha have a deep conviction in her relationship with her mother, and a brighter tomorrow.

Movies Pop Culture

I live in India and love Hollywood. But why is it so hard for Americans to stop using awful Indian stereotypes?

I’ve grown up with a love for Hollywood films and American television shows. What I don’t love though is the widely inaccurate and lack o representation when it comes to Indians and India itself. 

Honestly, where are we and why are we perceived in such an incorrect way?

The only shows I can think of that accurately represent the Indian community are The Mindy Project and Master of None – all thanks to the greatness behind the screen.


Without their help, we can’t rely on Hollywood movies and television to get it right. In their world, Indian representation is meager at best. When we do find ourselves represented – it’s so highly inaccurate and grossly stereotypical that it saddens and frustrates me at the same time.

[bctt tweet=”Indian representation is meager at best.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Take, for example, Raj in The Big Bang Theory or the way India’s poverty was displayed in Slumdog Millionaire.

Don’t misunderstand me here, I don’t have a problem with showing the reality of India, but it seems like Hollywood only sees this poverty-ridden part of my country and can’t seem to snap out of it.

India is so much more than cows on the roads, noisy markets, and Holi. 

We don’t play Holi 24/7, all 365 days of the year, y’all.  It’s a festival that comes once a year and it means a lot to us, but it’s not all that there is to us.

Reducing India to such a narrow image is disappointing.

When it comes to characters specifically – we’re either highly qualified doctors, teachers, engineers or we’re taxi drivers. That’s it. There’s absolutely no way an Indian living abroad could fall into a middle category, right?


This is appalling, considering the fact that we have a population of 1.3 billion, with 29 states, 22 languages, and 9 recognized religions. 

We should surely get at least decent amount of representation in an industry as big as Hollywood, right?

Diversity has always been poor in Hollywood and continues to be so, despite so many talented Indian (and PoC) actors and producers trying to change that.

[bctt tweet=” Reducing India to such a narrow image is disappointing.” username=”wearethetempest”]

It’s worth mentioning that Priyanka Chopra’s foray into the industry has been refreshing after watching her dominate Bollywood for years. 

When I see her onscreen, repping India at such an international level – it makes my heart warm.


As cheesy as it may sound, 12-year-old me struggled to find a character or actor in Hollywood that she could relate to. But 21-year-old me finds that solace through Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra.

Hollywood filmmakers shrink India into this minuscule image of what is perceived and it doesn’t do justice to what we actually are.

Our accent is stereotyped – so incorrectly. 

Not every Indian sounds like Appu from The Simpsons, FYI. And we definitely don’t dance the way Major Lazer and his pals did in the “Lean On” music video.

[bctt tweet=” It’s sad to see our culture being reduced to practically nothing but stereotypes on screen.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The modern Indian is anything but what Hollywood presumes them to be. They pursue unorthodox artistic careers, they’re not all socially awkward, and they’re definitely not reeking of curry.

On one end, our culture and our people get stereotyped and misrepresented to no end in movies and television.

On the other end, they ignore or appropriate our culture to no end.

There was an episode of the Netflix series Fuller House where get this:  Not a single Indian character on the show, but they threw an Indian-themed party for one of the characters and there was a cow in the backyard. 

Because all Indians have cows in their backyard, right?

This narrative is so ignorant and blatantly offensive. India boasts of multiple metropolitan cities that coexist alongside villages. My country is a dichotomy and is beautiful as well. 

So don’t reduce it to what it’s not and don’t try to tell me what I look like.

We are all so beautifully unique and diverse in our own ways, with our own cultures.


We’re more than just your stereotypes.